It's Saturday morning, time to talk Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers football. What better way to find out about the Dolphins' opponents than to talk to John Genarro from Bolts From The Blue, SB Nation's outstanding San Diego Chargers blog? He agreed to stop by and answer my questions, letting us all know what's been happening out on the west coast this year.
The Phinsider: It seems like I am touching on this topic every week. The Dolphins defense has, for the past several years, struggled covering the tight end, and San Diego has one of the best TEs in the game, and a former Dolphins TE. However, Anmtonio Gates has struggled early this year with injuries. How is Gates, and will he be a threat Sunday threat the Dolphins defense? How's Randy McMichael looking? Is he making up for the struggles of Gates?
Bolts From The Blue: It is highly unlikely that Gates plays on Sunday. He had a strong Week 1 game against the Vikings, but re-injured his foot against the Patriots and was ineffective the rest of the game. He missed the KC game and will probably miss 1-2 more before feeling good enough to try and run and cut.Randy McMichael is a solid backup TE who works very well with Philip Rivers and provides good pass-blocking also. There's a drop in talent from Gates (Hall of Famer, uncoverable) to McMichael, but Randy can still get 5+ catches for 100+ yards against teams that struggle covering TEs. The biggest difference seems to come in the red zone, where Gates is targeting constantly and McMichael almost never is.
TP: Last season, San Diego had the top ranked defense in the league, giving up just 271.6 yards per game. So far this year, they have given up nearly 45 more yards per contest, falling to the eighth position in the league rankings. Is this just a matter of early season rust, or is there something happening to the San Diego defense this season?
TP: Speaking of the defense, San Diego placed safety Bob Sanders on injured reserve Wednesday. What was the veteran safety providing for the Chargers this year, and will his absence be noticeable?BFTB: Three-fold. Number one, those numbers from 2010 aren't exactly as telling as one might think. Opposing offenses didn't get many yards because they were often playing on short-fields (due to the historically bad Special Teams by SD). The second part of the equation was that because of those short-fields, quick scores and Special Team points.....most opposing offenses were more concerned with running the ball, killing the clock and keeping Philip Rivers off the field than they were with moving down the field and scoring points.Third, and finally, is that the Chargers defense is still a mystery. It played well against the Vikings, gave up a billion yards to the Patriots (and, really, who doesn't give up a billion yards to the Patriots?) and then showed Kansas City a half of good defense followed by a half of no defense. New Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky seems to occasionally get into funks of rushing just 3 defensive linemen and dropping everyone else back into zone, and opposing QBs simply have to wait for someone to get open down field and rack up big yards. Maybe that's a big assumption after 3 games, but it could be seen against in this one.
BFTB: He was providing big-risk, big-reward. He was signed to a one-year, $1 million deal with the idea that he could help provide the defense with a run-stopping playmaker and some physicality. In the two games he played, I don't know that he had the opportunity to make any big plays. Steve Gregory, who is the likeliest to take his spot as the starting SS, is much better in coverage but a little weaker in run defense. So while Bob will be missed in one aspect, the move is a wash for the Chargers as far as what Sanders' has done so far this year.
TP: Quarterback Phillip Rivers has already thrown for 979 yards (4th best in the NFL). but is also leading the league in interceptions with 6. He is currently ranked 22nd in the league in passer rating (82.1), or 15th in Total QBR (51.3). Is there something wrong with Rivers that is leading to these low rankings/high interception numbers, or is it an early season aberration that will get worked out?
BFTB: Nobody really knows. Some fans think that he's injured, or that he's lost some arm-strength (he worked his upper-body out a lot while recovering from knee surgery in 2008), but I think most believe that it's just a combination of bad luck and Philip needing to find his "rhythm." It doesn't help that his best and most reliable receiver (Gates) hasn't been around to bail him out.
TP: Everyone knows Vincent Jackson, Ryan Matthews, and all the other big names from the Chargers. Can you give us someone on offense who we may not know, but could have a big impact on the game? Defense?
BFTB: Well, you know Randy McMichael and I think he's the real X-factor for the Chargers offense in this game....at least as far as "unknown" guys go. Patrick Crayton played his first game of the season last week and is getting healthier, and I think he could be a real weapon as the second or third option in the passing offense.On defense, I'm actually somewhat excited to see Steve Gregory get his old SS spot back. He has his flaws, but what he does well is create turnovers (a weakness of the Chargers defense). He'll give the Chargers a better chance of keeping Anthony Fasano in check, and maybe a chance to win the turnover battle for the first time this season.